DRAG STRIP: Mayor tells history of annexation

Editor's note: This is the first of two parts of a story covering a talk presented by Social Circle Mayor Jim Burgess to the Concerned Citizens of Social Circle concerning the proposed drag strip for property between U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 20. The second part of the story will be published in Friday's Newton Citizen.

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Mayor Jim Burgess said Tuesday that the present controversy surrounding a proposed drag strip in Social Circle could be traced to the actions of the Newton County Board of Commissioners.

Burgess spoke to a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, a group of residents who have organized to oppose a rezoning request by Walton County resident Donnie Clack, who hopes to construct a motorsports complex, including a drag strip, on 322 acres between U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 20.

The mayor was asked to address the impact legislation proposed by state Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, to de-annex this portion of property -- most of which is located in Newton County -- would have on the city.

Burgess began by recounting the history of how the property in question was annexed into Social Circle.

He said Clack, along with two other land owners, requested in 2006 to annex about 1,200 acres situated in Newton County into the city of Social Circle. The three property owners agreed, Burgess said, to a development contract and, upon annexation, planned to develop their land as a mixed-use business park that would have included low- and high-density residential areas, offices, parkways, light industrial, a civic center, parks and a water treatment facility on the Little River.

Burgess said the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission was pleased with the plan because it was consistent with the city's long-range development plans and was similar to the multi-county industrial park across the interstate, Stanton Springs.

Almost immediately, Burgess said, the Newton BOC objected to the annexation, and the city and the county entered into mediation, which failed to resolve the dispute. As a result, Newton County sued Social Circle in Newton County Superior Court.

In the meantime, Burgess said he met with Newton commissioners and offered them a series of concessions in an effort to resolve the issues. Among his proposals, Burgess said the city would refrain from annexing any property across I-20 and he suggested Social Circle and Newton County prepare a joint development plan so that development would occur seamlessly "and protect that corridor."

"It's still a pristine residential corridor, and we'd like to keep it that way," Burgess said.

But, he said, "Newton County commissioners never responded to my proposals."

The annexation was repealed in March 2008 in order to avoid the lawsuit, Burgess said, and due to an error in the description of one of the properties that was to be annexed.

In July of that year, Clack alone came back to the city and asked again to annex his property into Social Circle. A year later, Clack applied to rezone the land from agricultural to general commercial with special conditions for a motorsports complex. The other two property owners applied for annexation in early 2009.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't get together with Newton County," Burgess said. "If we had, we might not be where we are today. The economy may have kept it from developing, but the zoning would have been in place."